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Is Yogurt Safe for Dogs with Epilepsy?



epileptic dog eating yogurt

Managing epilepsy in dogs can be a daunting task for pet owners. While medication and veterinary care are essential, diet has emerged as a powerful tool in controlling seizure activity. Among the dietary approaches, the ketogenic diet has garnered significant attention for its effectiveness in reducing seizures. The ketogenic diet––high in fats and proteins, low in carbohydrates––helps produce ketones that serve as an alternative energy source for the brain, potentially stabilising neuronal activity and reducing seizures.


Yogurt, known for being rich in protein and healthy fats, seems like a perfect fit for a ketogenic diet. However, its suitability for dogs prone to seizures warrants closer examination. While yogurt can be a nutritious addition to many diets, the presence of lactose and specific milk proteins raises potential concerns for dogs with epilepsy. This article will delve into the science to explore whether yogurt is good for dogs with epilepsy.


Understanding Canine Epilepsy


Canine Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterised by recurrent seizures. These seizures can be triggered by various factors, including genetics, environmental stimuli, and diet. Managing a dog’s diet can be crucial in controlling seizure activity.


The Role of Diet in Epilepsy


Research indicates that certain foods may impact seizure frequency and severity in both humans and animals. For instance, the ketogenic diet, which is high in fats and proteins but low in carbohydrates, has been shown to help manage seizures. By drastically reducing carbohydrate intake, the body is forced to use fat as its primary energy source. This metabolic state, known as ketosis, produces ketones, which are molecules that provide an alternative energy source for the brain. Ketones have been found to stabilise neuronal activity and reduce excitability, which can help in controlling seizures. Additionally, the ketogenic diet can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are critical factors in managing epilepsy.


Yogurt and other dairy products are usually considered a great food choice for a ketogenic diet; however, some studies have shown that dairy products can influence the inflammatory response and oxidative stress, both of which are linked to seizure activity. Let’s dive in to the science behind how dairy could possibly trigger seizures.

 

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Anecdotal Reports of Dairy as a Seizure Trigger


There are anecdotal reports of dairy being a trigger for seizures in humans. In one study involving 125 families, 55.2% believed there was a relationship between specific foods and seizures. Dairy products were among the most commonly reported triggers. Let’s explore the physiological reasons that dairy could potentially “trigger” a seizure.


The Impact of Dairy Products: Inflammation and Oxidative Stress


How Can Dairy Influence Seizures?


Dairy products, like yogurt, contain proteins and sugars that can affect the body in ways that may trigger seizures. To understand this, we need to look at two main factors: oxidative stress and inflammation.


Dairy, Oxidative Stress, and Seizures


Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between harmful molecules called free radicals and the body's ability to neutralise them with antioxidants. When there are too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants, it leads to oxidative stress, which can damage cells, including neurons. This damage can make the brain more susceptible to seizures.


  • Free Radicals: Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells. They are produced as a byproduct of normal cell metabolism and can also be introduced through external sources like pollution and certain foods. Examples include reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS).


  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants are molecules that can neutralise free radicals by donating an electron, which stabilises the free radicals and prevents them from causing cell damage. The body naturally produces some antioxidants, like catalase, and others are obtained through the diet.


Dairy and Free Radicals: Reactive Oxygen and Nitrogen Species (ROS/RNS)


Certain proteins in dairy, especially from cow milk, can increase the production of ROS/RNS. Studies have shown that the highest levels of ROS/RNS were found in cells incubated with β-casein, a protein found in cow milk. These harmful particles can damage neurons, increasing the risk of seizures. The presence of high ROS/RNS levels means there is more oxidative stress, which can exacerbate seizure activity.


Dairy and Catalase Activity


Catalase is an enzyme that helps neutralise ROS/RNS by breaking them down into less harmful substances, thereby reducing oxidative stress. However, the presence of certain milk proteins can affect catalase activity. Some proteins, particularly those found in cow milk, may reduce the effectiveness of catalase. This reduction means the body is less capable of neutralising ROS/RNS, leading to higher oxidative stress.


When oxidative stress is high due to increased ROS/RNS and decreased catalase activity, neurons are more prone to damage, making seizures more likely. Therefore, the link between dairy consumption, particularly cow milk proteins, and increased seizure risk is tied to how these proteins influence ROS/RNS levels and catalase activity.


Dairy, Inflammation, and Seizures


When the body detects something harmful, it releases chemicals called cytokines that help fight off the threat. Some of these cytokines are pro-inflammatory, meaning they cause inflammation. Inflammation is the body's way of dealing with injury or infection, but too much inflammation can be harmful. In the context of epilepsy, too much inflammation can make brain cells more excitable and lower the threshold for seizures, making them more likely to occur.


Research has shown that milk, in particular cow’s milk, can contribute to inflammation. This is due to specific proteins in cow’s milk that increase the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. However, studies comparing different types of animal milk show not all animal milks elicit the same inflammatory reaction. Here’s a closer look at how different types of milk affect inflammation:


  • Cow’s Milk: Studies have shown that proteins from cow’s milk can significantly increase levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-1β. These increased levels of cytokines can make brain cells more excitable, potentially triggering seizures.


  • Goat’s Milk: In contrast, goat’s milk tends to cause less inflammation compared to cow’s milk. It has been shown to result in lower levels of IL-1β and IL-6, making it a potentially safer option for dogs with epilepsy.


  • Sheep’s Milk: Similar to goat’s milk, sheep’s milk generally causes less inflammation than cow’s milk, which may make it a better alternative for managing epilepsy in dogs.

 

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Balancing Benefits and Risks


When considering whether yogurt is safe for dogs with epilepsy, it's essential to weigh the potential benefits and risks:


  • Benefits: In a ketogenic diet, yogurt, especially full fat yogurts, can be a good source of healthy fats and proteins.


  • Risks: The lactose and milk proteins in yogurt could trigger seizures in some dogs, particularly those sensitive to these components. Cow’s milk proteins have shown to induce higher inflammatory responses, which can be a potential trigger for seizures.


Conclusion: Is Yogurt Safe for Dogs with Epilepsy?


The question, "Is yogurt safe for dogs with epilepsy?" does not have a straightforward answer and would require substantial further research to make a conclusively demonising judgement. While yogurt may offer some benefits due to its fat content in a ketogenic diet, the potential risks associated with lactose and milk proteins should be considered. If you feed yogurt and other dairy products to your epileptic dog, you can try eliminating it from their diet and see if it has an effect on their seizure frequency. Read more about identifying triggers here.


If you still would like to incorporate dairy into your dog’s meals, perhaps consider opting for sheep or goats milk, as they generally cause less inflammation. Each dog is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Removal of dairy from your dog’s diet does not mean that your dog will stop having seizures––there is no cure for epilepsy––however, it might help to improve the overall state of your dog’s brain, making them more resilient to seizures in the future.


References:

  • Inaloo, Soroor, et al. "The effects of dairy products on seizure tendency in mice." *Heliyon* 5.3 (2019).

  • Asadi-Pooya, Ali Akbar, and Ali Ghaffari. "Do patients with epilepsy believe they need specific dietary restrictions?." *Epilepsy & Behavior* 5.6 (2004): 945-948.

  • Maier, N. R. F., Longhurst, J. U., & Ellen, P. (1951). Effects of lactose in the diet on seizure behavior of male and female rats. *Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 44*(5), 501–506. [https://doi.org/10.1037/h0053797](https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/h0053797)

  • Albenzio, M., et al. "Milk nutrition and childhood epilepsy: An ex vivo study on cytokines and oxidative stress in response to milk protein fractions." *Journal of dairy science* 101.6 (2018): 4842-4852.

  • Ciliberti, Maria Giovanna, et al. "The role of milk nutrition and ketogenic diet in epileptic disorders." *Epilepsy [Internet]* (2022).

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